Bangladesh is a low-lying deltaic country located at the mouth of the Bay of Bengal in the northern Indian Ocean. Five percent of all households are headed or managed by women, as a result of male out-migration for seasonal and overseas employment, although control over intra-household resources may still be unequally distributed between women and men.
Promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment is an important agricultural development objective, both for the Bangladeshi government and for international donors. Female farmers make up 40 percent of the total agricultural labour force in 2010 and should have adequate and equal access to agricultural finance.
Yet women in Bangladesh tend to be among the poorest and most vulnerable to weather-related risks, one of the major sources of farm income fluctuations for rural households in low-income countries.
Weather-index insurance (WII) offers one possible protection against such risks that could also encourage investment in intensified and high-value production. A WII scheme makes payouts when a specified weather parameter is surpassed (for example, if seasonal rainfall falls below a specified threshold, indicating a drought).
Women’s ability to take advantage of such schemes and generate income in the agricultural sector is impeded by their low social empowerment, weak community influence, and lack of control over and access to income.
Relative to their male counterparts, women have less access to finance, inputs, education, and a general lack of access to services and information that could help serve as a buffer against the negative impacts of weather-related production shocks.
Three key interventions are necessary to increase interest in weather-index insurance, particularly among female farmers:
• Institutional credibility is essential. Efforts should be made to invest in such institutional credibility by increasing government monitoring and scrutiny such that fraudulent events become less likely.
• Investments are required in women’s agency and financial literacy, otherwise women’s access to an innovative financial product such as WII will remain constrained.
• WII schemes must be as realistic and simple as possible for the intended clients – particularly women – to understand the insurance product.
This summary is based on a working paper The influence of gender and product design on farmers’ preferences for weather-indexed crop insurance.